Review: The Fifth Doctor Adventures – Forty 2

Review by Jacob Licklider

*Spoilers ahead*

There is something interesting about having the Fifth Doctor taken after Four to Doomsday slid down his timeline going back and forth to each of his TARDIS teams in mysterious circumstances, meaning that authors have to be aware of the Fifth Doctor being a very young Doctor put in circumstances at different points of his arc. Forty 1 included the Fifth Doctor learning of Adric’s death and having to then have an adventure with Adric before being flung forward to the point where he is traveling with Tegan and Turlough, specifically after the events of Frontios which is where Forty 2 picks things up.

Now, Forty 2 has the distinction of being both a sequel set as well as being the third Fifth Doctor release to be a complete six parter after The Game and Cold Fusion. Yes, Forty 2 is six episodes long and a single story, The Auton Infinity, despite the title on the box saying otherwise this second title is how I will be referring to it going forward, since Forty 2 doesn’t actually tell us anything about the contents of the set outside of the fact that this is a celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Fifth Doctor’s television debut. This review, due to the many twists in Tim Foley’s script and character arcs that are spread across the three hour story, will be including spoilers big and small so while this is most likely being released on the same day as the release it is my recommendation to go and give this a listen first, especially if you are a Fifth Doctor fan it’s up to Foley’s usual standard of script and honestly in the top of releases from this year. If you choose to read on, on your own head be it.

As a six-part story, Tim Foley goes back to the classic Doctor Who formula of setting up four episodes to be closely related and then two episodes that go in a different direction, though this time following The Seeds of Doom method of opening with the two episodes that are closely linked before transitioning into a larger four episode arc, with the added bonus of the first two episodes being deceptively normal. Not quite average Doctor Who but it is clear familiar territory: the TARDIS lands on Earth in the earlyish 1980s where UNIT has brought in the Brigadier to assist with training exercises to deal with alien invasions while an international peace conference occurs nearby, but shock and horror the masks used on the soldiers are plastic and part of the Nestene Consciousness who have gone for round two with the Master to invade the Earth. From that description the first thing that comes to mind is a two episode retread of Terror of the Autons, and that easily could have been the case in the hands of a lesser writer.

Foley already is taking the opportunity to deal with the fact that the Doctor is not the Doctor as he should be at this point, playing with the audience for several possible ideas on what could be happening.

There is also the genuinely interesting idea of introducing Prodigal, played by Juliet Aubrey, in an opening scene where a UNIT soldier is taken over by the Autons and several genuinely interesting uses of plastics becoming activated by the Nestene Consciousness. The first cliffhanger reveals the involvement of the Master, played by Jon Culshaw doing an excellent tribute to Anthony Ainley while still playing the Brigadier, often in the same scene, where there is a lampshade on the similarities to Terror of the Autons. By the end of the second episode that lampshade is set on fire with the reveal that the Master has been hiding not as an obvious authority figure like Oscar Pearce’s Captain Ted Mears (T. Mears being an anagram of Master), but the Brigadier himself sending the story into a whole new direction with our red herring shot by the Master.

It is at this point where the story goes in several different directions. The real Brigadier and the Doctor wake up on a spaceship where it is revealed that Prodigal is a portion of the Nestene Consciousness split from the rest of the group mind due to being drawn into the Death Zone for The Five Doctors while the Doctor didn’t even have the good sense of showing up. They are still a group mind and are paired through much of the rest of the story with Tegan which allows Aubrey and Janet Fielding to play off one another wonderfully, especially as Foley explores the differences between the individualistic human mind and the workings and desires of a collective mind. This is something that could have easily become looking down upon the “otherness” of Prodigal, but Foley never goes down that route, really getting to explore the sentience and right to life and freedom of an outsider like this. It also becomes clear that Peter Davison is playing two versions of the Doctor, one revealed to be an Auton with his inhabitance from the other stories and this is where Foley takes a turn into Lovecraft territory. The threat of The Auton Infinity is one that threatens reality with the damage to the timeline of the Doctor travelling, mixed with the splintering of the Consciousness has started to awaken an Old One. Foley makes the smart choice of not really showing us the Old One in any tangible sense, allowing the horror to make itself known.

This is already a lot to juggle and The Auton Infinity does an excellent job with it, but eventually both Doctors are split up with the one who has been our point of view for both sets of Forty is paired then with Kamelion, again played by Jon Culshaw, where he slowly breaks down for the last third of the story with Davison giving a genuinely heartbreaking performance where he has to sacrifice himself to save reality. Well with one final little cameo that I think is best left to the listener to discover, the Master escapes of course, and eventually every wrong is righted as the Doctor, Tegan, and Turlough end up hurtling towards Resurrection of the Daleks, and yes Turlough has a lot to do in this story, mainly with the Brigadier so Mark Strickson and Jon Culshaw can play off the strained student/teacher dynamic which is also great, and the way everything comes together just feels like a proper celebration.

Foley along with director Ken Bentley bring everything together to make The Auton Infinity and with it Forty 2 an epic celebration. The references are not intrusive at all and every piece of the puzzle ends up having a purpose with all plotlines and threads being given ample time to develop and resolve by the end of the story. It makes it an engaging three hour listen and one of the many reasons why Big Finish Productions should be putting energy into longer stories where every character can shine and plots can develop complexity. It’s made Forty 2 one of the best.


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Review: Doctor Who – Forty

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